How to Use an Empty Frame as a Photo Prop

My wife bought this empty, ornate frame for $20.  We planned to fill it with something interesting.  Maybe a photo.  Maybe a painting.  Maybe cork board so we could tack up photos and notes.  We had loads of ideas, but the frame sat empty for weeks.  While pushing it aside to grab my photo equipment for spring shots of the Philadelphia Art Museum, I finally thought of a way to get our $20 worth.  The key was keeping it empty.

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Framing your shot is a key element of photo composition.  And photographers use every frame they can: tree branches, archways, doorways, windows, a crooked arm, split legs–anything that can isolate your subject and draw the eye.  This literal approach works as well, if you’re going for a more playful aesthetic.  You’ll want to try moving it around your subject and gauging distances in order to get the frame and subject sharp.  I kept these shots at F8 aperture or above.  The closer I shot to the frame itself the smaller (higher number) I made the aperture.

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Notice the stick in the bottom right-hand corner of the frame?  Yeah, I didn’t.  My plan is to afix two small hinged kickstands (almost) to keep the frame standing.  On flat or slick surfaces like the block below, you want something that sticks–possibly with a rubber bottom.  The stick (which I found in a nearby park) slid all over the place, drawing undue attention to my already peculiar plans.

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Try different frames.  Different sizes, styles and different colors depending on what you aim to shoot.  It just so happened that I had the type of frame that is used to hold classic pieces inside the museum.  It works.  (Looks like the art museum left a painting outside, right?)

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Lastly, to add a more dynamic element to the shots, you can perform a sharpness (more like un-sharpness) touch up with your Lightroom or Photoshop brush.  Use a mask so the desired blurriness outside the frame doesn’t drift on or inside the frame with an unsteady hand. Shoot to keep everything in focus, but then blur everything outside.  This really makes the frame seem filled with an actual photo or painting but is of course an impossible shot to get naturally.  It’s all in your preference.

Ultimately, I’m happy with how these Art Museum shots turned out.  I put them up on Instagram and the prints are due to arrive soon.  Now I just have to find something to put them in.

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